What is the difference between a separation agreement and a divorce decree in Pennsylvania? While they can deal with the same issues and function similarly, they are quite different in the eyes of the law. Learn the differences between a marital separation agreement and a divorce decree from noted PA divorce lawyers Lee Schwartz.
What is a Marital Separation Agreement?
A marital separation agreement is a document that temporarily resolves issues arising from an impending divorce. Child custody and visitation, child support and spousal support, and responsibility for bills, insurances, taxes, and household and family tasks are divided and assigned as necessary between the parties.
If the parties agree on the resolution of the issues in the initial marital separation agreement, those terms may be incorporated into what is called a settlement agreement, which is filed with the court in PA. A settlement agreement becomes part of the divorce decree and governs the parties’ relationship and responsibilities once the divorce is final.
How Does a Divorce Decree Differ from a Separation Agreement?
The divorce decree finalizes the dissolution of the parties’ marriage in the eyes of the law. It will include the settlement agreement, which may incorporate the terms of the parties’ separation agreement and will set forth the division of property and the parties’ responsibilities going forward. These responsibilities may include paying child support or spousal support, paying certain bills or debts, and maintaining life insurance.
In short, the separation agreement temporarily resolves issues arising from the dissolution of the marriage. If the parties agree and the terms of the separation agreement work well for the family, those terms can be incorporated into the settlement agreement which then becomes part of the divorce decree finalizing the dissolution of the marriage.
The terms of the settlement agreement can be changed by filing a petition with the family court. Often child custody arrangements and support are changed and adjusted in the years following divorce.
If a party seeks a change in the child custody arrangement, the family law judge will consider the 16 Child Custody Factors in PA. If a party needs to reduce the amount of support paid, under no circumstances should they simply cease paying, because they risk being slapped with Contempt of Support Order. Instead, maintain payments and file a petition to reduce support.
How Do I Get a Marital Separation Agreement?
More often than not, the parties cannot agree to separation terms on their own. Divorce can be a difficult time and emotions often get in the way. In our experience, reasoned negotiation between the parties’ divorce lawyers helps the parties compromise and settle on terms that are acceptable to both and help the family move forward.
If you are having trouble creating a mutually acceptable marital separation agreement, call us. Our divorce lawyers have the experience to help you come to a separation agreement that is fair to all and fully resolves the practical issues arising from the dissolution of the marriage.